Over 8,000 teachers and eduction support professionals, elected by their peers to represent them, gathered in Washington D.C at the beginning of a hot July, to attend the 150th National Education Association (NEA) meeting, the 91st Representative Assembly (RA). This makes the gathering the world's largest democratic deliberative assembly.
We Educate America, wasn't just the theme, but the reality, emphasized throughout the almost week long event.
On the first day, and with one of the first pieces of business, delegates reiterated their priorities, and affirmed their commitment to leading the profession by:
- Support Association and member led school transformation efforts and pursue state and district policies that help create great public schools for all students;
- Offer intensive support to struggling schools (including NEA Priority Schools) and share lessons learned at the local and state levels;
- Work in partnership with parents, community organizations, and allied coalitions with the goal of improving student outcomes;
- Lead efforts to fund and establish a coalition of teachers’ professional organizations, higher education professional associations and faculty, education support professional organizations, specialized instructional support personnel organizations (e.g. school social workers, psychologists etc.), and other organizations promoting standards of professional practice with the goal of identifying a universally accepted body of standards for all of the education professions;
- Advocate for including educators and association leaders in all school and district decision-making bodies, including the areas of policy, personnel, and budgets. Use collective bargaining and other multi-party processes to help accomplish this goal;
- Create a network of organizational advocates at the local, state, and national level to convey the over-arching goals and strategies as well as the actions, the desired outcomes, and the value propositions of leading the professions.
The second from last point being one we have repeatedly called for here at JTF. Their second order of business was to overwhelmingly reject the misuse of standardized tests
- Call on governors, state legislatures, state education boards, administrators, and assessment system consortia or developers, to reexamine public school accountability systems in the state, and work with educators to improve them based on fair testing standards promulgated by experts in testing practice;
- Call on states and districts to develop systems based on multiple forms of evidence of student learning that do not require extensive standardized testing, are used to support all students and improve schools; and are not used for purposes for which they have not been validated;
- Share the NEA Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability with relevant stakeholders in order to inform conversations about the appropriate use of assessments in evaluation systems to support instruction and student learning.
- Disseminate criteria regarding the validity of assessments and promote the productive use of high quality, valid, and reliable standardized assessments as part of robust, authentic accountability systems that include multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality designed:
- to improve learning by identifying students’ strengths and challenges,
- to identify successful practices in schools,
- to support struggling schools, and
- to inform educators’ practice.
- Uphold our belief as stated in Resolution B-66 and shall support parents’/guardians’ rights to opt out of standardized testing.
The second day's business was dominated by the Vice President addressing the RA
Jill Biden also an educator, introducing her husband, the Vice President, captured the essence of the RA, “I know that you all understand. Being a teacher is not what I do, it’s who I am.”
The Vice-President then went on to capture the essence of the Presidential race, and more, “My Dad used to say ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget,’” Biden told delegates, that obviously resonated with the Ohio delegation who are suffering from the worst budget assault Ohio public schools have ever seen, due to Governor Kasich and his legislature's budget.
Speaking of Ohio, educators at the RA had not forgotten about SB5
The third day of the RA was set aside for association business, but the highlight turned out to be a speech by teacher of the year, Rebecca Mieliwocki.
“If we want real change, lasting change, if we want back the power, the pride, the soaring achievement that is an exceptional public education, then the revolution begins with us.”
The Final day of the RA, saw, or rather heard from President Obama, who made a surprise call while on a campaign trip through Ohio.
He told the more than 8,000 cheering educators gathered, “You can’t help the American people without helping education,” he went on to comment that Mitt Romney’s vision of education is a system that only benefits the richest Americans. “Michelle and I wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for great parents, great grandparents, and a great education.”
After the call, the huge convention center erupted into chants of "4 more year, 4 more years".